DA’s ‘Manifesto for Change’: Heavy on Government, Light on Liberty

Party leader Mmusi Maimane presented the DA manifesto for the upcoming election to South Africans on 23 February 2019 at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg. After much hype and fanfare, including appearances from the party’s heavy hitters such as Athol Trollip and Herman Mashaba, Maimane...

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Party leader Mmusi Maimane presented the DA manifesto for the upcoming election to South Africans on 23 February 2019 at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg. After much hype and fanfare, including appearances from the party’s heavy hitters such as Athol Trollip and Herman Mashaba, Maimane unpacked the vision the party hopes will convince voters to mark X in the DA box on their ballot sheets on the 8th of May this year.

In this piece I will attempt to unpack what I consider to be the significant points in the DA manifesto, as well as exploring the philosophy which underlies it. My primary concern with this sort of analysis/commentary is not whether the proposals in a manifesto will ‘work’ – pragmatism is not my standard of value, individual liberty is.

Land reform

On the issue of land reform, the DA is clear.

Where the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been steadfast in the determination to amend section 25 of the Constitution to allow for expropriation of all property without compensation (EWC), the DA’s manifesto states:

”Individual land ownership and property rights are a cornerstone of all successful liberal democracies – these rights must be protected.”

It would be delusional to think that SA does not need land reform, and it appears as though the DA proposes to run this process in a manner which would strengthen property rights, not dilute them as EWC would do.

I give the DA credit for making clear that it supports property rights, and opposes any proposal which would threaten these. Property rights form an indispensable part of the liberal conception of individual rights and if we judge according to the manifesto, the DA scores very well here.


On the subject of unemployment and jobs, the role of government proposed in the DA manifesto is a very active one.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) artificially inflates the cost of labour and distorts the relationship between employer and potential employee – it is an active measure which discourages businesses from growing and hiring more people. The NMW is not mentioned directly once in the manifesto.

The DA proposes a Jobs Act which “will make special incentive offers open to foreign and domestic investors who meet a minimum employment threshold. In other words, a DA government will make doing business as easy as possible for companies that want to invest and create jobs in South Africa.”

While moving in the right direction, I disagree with the minimum employment threshold. It should be easy for businesses of all sizes to come to SA. Relaxing foreign exchange controls would be an excellent idea.

Furthermore, a “labour market flexibility exemption clause” is also mentioned. This would allow “potential employees to opt-out of the relevant sectoral minimum wage”. Such a clause should aid immensely in alleviating the unemployment crisis in SA.


On the issue of healthcare, the DA rejects the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) and suggests that it would “Work with private healthcare insurance companies to extend the insurance coverage range in a manner which would improve affordability of options for the lower- and middle-class”.

How, precisely, a DA national government would “work with” the private sector raises a red flag for me, because the state should never be involved in ‘guiding’ any sector of society along its own aims and desires.

Economic justice

The heading ‘Economic justice for all’ contains the section that worries me most regarding the DA’s supposed liberal philosophy.

Here the manifesto states:

“The private sector can and should be brought onboard to help government and organised labour implement a partnership to create growth that empowers many more South Africans”.

The private sector must not be brought ‘onboard’ to help government with anything. This language necessarily entails coercion and/or force in one way or another and as soon as the government interferes in business, it infringes upon individual rights. No matter the stated goal, be it transformation or anything else, any policy or law which mandates that a business acts in manner X means that the government accepts the premise that it can influence businesses and individuals as it sees fit.

Role of the state

I do not agree with commentators who categorise the DA as reactionary to the moves of the ANC. At least not in a substantive manner. The DA is reactionary in that the party tries to tick all the boxes in its manifesto, all the things it thinks South Africans want the state to do for them. If the DA were substantively reactionary, it would answer the ANC’s socialist moves and policies with its own liberal, pro-individual freedom policies. From service delivery to climate change, the DA has tried to be better than the ANC, not necessarily different. Throughout its manifesto, the language is pro-state, not pro-individual.

The manifesto state that:

“The DA believes that it is the role of the state to expand the frontiers of opportunity for individuals by ensuring that it fulfils effectively the core functions of a modern state.”

This ought not be the proper role of the state. The proper role of the state, understood from the liberal framework, is that it must only protect individual rights.

This might sound boring to some. What is as sexy as a plan to ‘create’ millions of jobs? However as mentioned before, I’m not assessing the manifesto based on whether its proposals will garner votes and ‘work’; my assessment is based on whether the philosophy I read within those proposals is one which holds the individual, not the state, as paramount.

On the opening pages of the DA manifesto, ‘freedom’ is listed as top amongst the party’s values. But I do not believe that those driving the party value freedom for its own sake, but only for the sake of ‘progress’. Freedom is of instrumental value so long as it serves the cause of progress. Freedom is not seen as intrinsically valuable in and of itself.

There is no guiding principle; the particular machinations of those currently in power in the DA seem to determine the course of the ship. It is a matter of people, not principle. There are good musical notes here and there, but it is nothing we can consider a harmonious symphony. The DA’s manifesto reads, from a philosophical point of view, as a document built in a build-a-bear manner and the end product reflects the back-and-forth within the party about which we’ve read so much.

I could write analyses such as this one of the other parties’ manifestos, too. But the DA is ostensibly SA’s best hope for liberalism and that is why I wanted to write this piece: Liberalism in SA is what I try to advocate for.

The ANC and EFF are unashamed of their socialist, statist policies, policies which will strip South Africans of their individual liberty.

There are practical, workable proposals in the DA manifesto. It is the rhetoric of such an active government which concerns me most. The more active the government, the more it will infringe upon individual liberty and the greater the chance for abuse. For some there may be enough good in the DA’s manifesto to vote for the blue party come May; for me the party is a train on a track of pragmatism, and who knows where that leads?

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